FACT CHECK: Image Claims Face Masks Have Never Been Used To Help Limit Disease Spread Prior To 2020
An image shared on Facebook claims face masks had never been used to help protect against the spread of viruses prior to 2020.
Masks have previously been used during disease outbreaks such as the Spanish Influenza pandemic.
Social media has become replete with misinformation about face masks and their impact on people’s health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended in early April that people wear face coverings in public to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
A viral image alleges in a Facebook post that masks had never been used for protection against viruses prior to 2020, saying, “Trying to figure out how masks keep us safe when we never used them before 2020 for any viruses.” (RELATED: Did Florida’s Surgeon General Recommend People Stop Wearing Face Masks?)
But, contrary to the post’s claim, face masks have previously been used as an infectious disease mitigation strategy. For example, public health officials encouraged – and even mandated in some U.S. cities – people to wear masks during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, according to Stanford University.
“Newspapers provided instructions on ‘How to Make Masks at Home‘ and published photographs of masked nurses,” E. Thomas Ewing, a history professor at Virginia Tech, wrote in Health Affairs. “Masks were just one of the ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions‘ or ‘social distancing‘ policies, to use modern terms, adopted to contain the epidemic, along with closing schools, prohibiting public gatherings, and advising changes in personal behavior.”
During the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu pandemic, the CDC recommended that individuals sick with or suspected of having the virus and those at high risk for severe illness wear face masks in certain settings. People in Asian countries, particularly those impacted by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, have also worn masks during public health emergencies prior to the emergence of the new coronavirus in late 2019, according to The Atlantic.
As of press time, there are over 10.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and some 517,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.